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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar:  History is written by victors, said Winston Churchill once. Unfortunately, on Thursday Odisha scripted history as a big loser in country's wild tiger conservation.

Virtually, a whimpering end to the roaring first-ever inter-state tiger relocation project in Odisha poses big questions on survival of this striped species in the State.

The thriving fear is Odisha is the only country in the State, which have recorded decline in tiger population since 2006. And the population of this feline species has dropped by nearly half to 28 in 2018 from 45 in 2006.

In contrast, a look at MP, the place of tiger relocation to Odisha to and fro, shows the population of big cats has leapt to 526 in 2018 from 300 in 2006. Incidentally, MP is regarded as one of the best tiger conservation habitat in the country.

Now, the moot point is how this failure in relocation could aggravate the falling tiger population in the State?

Consider this. The tiger mortality data for the period 2012 - 2018 shows Odisha lost 7 tigers. When 3 died a natural death, 4 were poached, including 2 confirmed cases. Contrarily, the State has not seen a single new addition to the big cat family during the corresponding period.

According to Wildlife Society of Odisha secretary, Biswajit Mohanty, Odisha has only three tiger habitats - Simlipal, Satkosia and Sunabeda. Only lone tigers were sighted in Munniguda and Sundargarh, which has no conservation significance for the simple reason that they are without a mate. Even, the tiger population in the 3 habitats are very low with high chances of inbreeding. And inbreeding brings a host of genetic problems, whereby life span of tigers get shortened in a big way, he added. Significantly, data also shows a high rate of natural death of tigers in Odisha.

It is in this given context, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), with NTCA's approval, has conceptualised this first inter-state tiger relocation in the country. Odisha has been chosen for this tiger conservation project, for the sole reason of fast dwindling big cat population.

The suspension of the tiger translocation project by NTCA yesterday has once again heightened the fear of extinction of big cats from the State by around 2050.

The NTCA blamed State for poor implementation of SOP (Standard operating Procedure) required in such instances of relocation.

Sample where Odisha erred. Sariska Tiger Reserve has a history of successful intra-state relocation. Odisha didn't initiate the following measures that Sariska implemented.

Post relocation, authorities in Sariska erected masonry walls at strategic places to prevent livestock grazing, collection of forest produces or wood to prevent human-tiger interface.

Moreover,  even after detection of the pugmarks of the migrant female tiger around villages situated on periphery of the reserve, the State Forest Department failed to deploy tiger guards at vintage points to prevent attack on cattle and humans.

Above all, Odisha violated the norm of keeping a wild tiger (nicknamed Sundari) in enclosure for a longer time period that has a grave consequence on tiger's natural life cycle.    

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